Monday, 18 September 2017

Film Review: Nothing can prepare you for Darren Aronofksy's delirious mother!

Writing about about Darren Aronofksy's mother! after just one viewing is akin to trying to solve a crossword without any clues. This is a film so loaded with metaphor and allegory that its narrative scarcely makes sense without an understanding of the symbolism running through it. Further still, it's borderline impossible to translate mother!'s metaphorical work into a concrete interpretation on just one viewing. Oh no, you'll be too busy picking your jaw back up off the floor come the end of the film's utterly insane final act to even give any thought to whatever it is you've just seen.

mother! is very much not the film its trailers promoted, and while this will likely damage its box office results - and is the probable cause for its notable "F" CinemaScore grade - I can't help but marvel at how this film defies expectation. Aronofksy has crafted a story so utterly unique that I won't damage any of it by discussing plot details here, trust me when I say you don't want any of this spoiled for you. mother! is a lot to take in, and part of me is still questioning why I'm writing this review so shortly after I saw the film, but it's simultaneously the kind of cinema experience that gets your brain running at such speeds that the words just come flooding out - whether they make sense or not is another matter entirely.

I'll probably still be debating myself as to how much I like this film in a year's time, so I'll begin with the one thing I am confident about: Jennifer Lawrence is mindblowingly good here. The way she softens her voice in the film's first act to contrast her insanity in the finale is a mesmerising display in control. Lawrence demonstrates breathtaking range across mother! and, come the final act, you'll be questioning how on Earth she got herself into the right headspace to perform a handful of scenes. One grim, almost sickening sequence in particular would be a train wreck without Lawrence's committed performance, in mother!'s most vile and disturbing moments she never loses her grasp on this character. It's another sensational piece of acting from one of Hollywood's very best.

I guess I can also say that I appreciate how well crafted Aronofsky's film is. From its haunting production work to its eerie, atmosphere defining sound design, mother! forms both a visual and audio aesthetic that feels entirely unique. The film is gripping from its first frame right through to its last, even if you don't understand what you're watching or don't agree that what you're seeing should ever be shown on a cinema screen (there are a couple of moments like this, for sure) you'll find it hard to look away. mother! is so relentlessly tense that I'm fairly confident I didn't move in my seat once across its two hour runtime. 

And yet, there's something about mother! that holds it back. I can't quite figure it out yet, but amid the terrific performances and superb direction lies a film burdened with ambiguity and drama that doesn't quite feel earned. I want to love this film unequivocally, in fact I'm still jumping for joy that a film this original and boundary-pushing was even released by a major studio, but I feel as if I can't. Perhaps I need to bite the bullet and revisit mother! as soon as possible, attempt to dive further into the film's heavy biblical allegory and deeply personal metaphors to try and decipher what it is that Aronofksy is attempting to achieve here. Or maybe I don't.

When I left the cinema at the end of the film, I felt physically shaken, as if I'd been through a traumatic personal experience. mother!'s film making craft is impressive enough to induce you into feeling this way even when you don't understand what you've just seen. But, by the time I was half way home, I realised I wasn't really looking forward to reading into the film. I'm always up for a challenging narrative, I could spend hours reading theories of films that push their audiences to translate their ideas. mother!, though, combines the enigmatic with the disturbing to such an extent that reading further into the film doesn't seem like an exciting, interesting task. In mother!, I wanted to discover a film I could explore endlessly, but I think I've settled on wanting to just move on and let its questions remain unanswered. I wouldn't go as far as saying that mother! offended me, but I have no intention of understanding the film's deeper meaning.

I appreciate mother! a lot, but I don't think I actively like it yet. I'm not even sure I ever will. The film's utterly bonkers final act is almost revelational in its bravery, and Aronofsky's building of chaos is masterful, but mother! loses its way as it descends into the extreme, landing on a final sequence that feels so engineered that it borders on pretention. I'm glad it exists, and I'll forever understand those who have fallen completely in love with it, but mother! doesn't quite stick the landing for this humble reviewer. And that's a real shame, because I had it pegged for a top ten slot in my year end list. Darren Aronofsky, thank you for making something so unique, I'm just sorry it didn't work for me.

In A Sentence

Led by Jennifer Lawrence's commanding performance, the bold, boundary pushing mother! is an exercise in chaotic film making that doesn't stick the disturbing landing.

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